Speech: Empowering Africa’s rural women for zero hunger and shared prosperity

Opening remarks by Åsa Regnér, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women at the FAO-AUC side event Leaving no one behind: Empowering Africa’s Rural Women for Zero Hunger and Shared Prosperity on 26 September.

Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2018

H. E. Josefa Leonel Correa Sacko, Africa Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture;

H. E. José Graziano da Silva, Director General of FAO;

Ms. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary, UNECA (to be confirmed);

Distinguished Panelists;

Honorable representatives of rural women from Africa;

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s discussion on ‘Empowering Africa’s Rural Women for Zero Hunger and Shared Prosperity’, explicitly recognizes the centrality of women and girls to the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing in a context in which often their role and significance is overlooked and undervalued.

It is well known that rural women in Africa, particularly women farmers, are the backbone of family and community agricultural production and food security.

African women make more than 60 per cent of those employed in the agricultural sector, making them important contributors to food production and preservation.

Yet they also endure the worst working conditions, with low pay and little or no social protection; limited or non-access to the business and financial services and support they need to prosper; and they also remain largely excluded from owning land, benefiting from resource wealth or participating in decision-making.

This reality continues to exacerbate the devastating effects of climate change in food production.

We continue to witness how this phenomenon disrupts agricultural production systems and exacerbates existing gender inequalities, creating new barriers and risks for women farmers and food security.

There is increasing international concern for the realities and challenges rural women face.

This year’s 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women focused on rural women as priority. In its deliberations, the Commission recognized that women and girls who live in rural areas are at higher risk of being left behind and that our ability to address their needs is the biggest contribution we can make to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved.

For UN Women rural women are also a high priority.

In our programming work, for example, through our Flagship Programme Initiative on climate-resilient agriculture programme, UN Women is supporting member states in their efforts to enhance women farmers’ land tenure security, access to climate information and financing, and higher value chains and markets. This aiming at safeguarding food and nutrition security in more than 13 African countries.

UN Women, in partnership with FAO, IFAD and WFP, is also implementing a joint programme on “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women” in four African countries: Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger and Rwanda, where we are reaching over 40,000 women to work together for: (i) improved food security and nutrition; (ii) increased income opportunities; (iii) enhanced leadership and participation; and (iv) gender responsive policy environment.

Over the past 18 years, great progress had been made to protect the rights of women and girls living in rural areas. Global food security has improved also, but challenges remain.

This is why both empowering rural women and food security are overriding priorities of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

These international agreements provide a strong framework for a comprehensive approach to realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls living in rural areas.

As the African Women’s Decade draws to a close in 2020 and it coincide the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, there is momentum for the international community to take to accelerate action and to achieve concrete results by 2020.

In enhancing this momentum, I call upon Member States to:

  • support the Kilimanjaro Initiative to mobilize rural women to take part in the decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods;
  • accelerate the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security;
  • leverage the AU’s and RECs’ (Regional Economic Communities) protocols and agreements for regional economic integration and more just and equitable agricultural commodity trade for women farmers; and
  • support regional SDG reviews that incorporate the concerns of rural women.

My call to the AU Member States is to continue to facilitate the participation and leadership of women at all levels.Also, the Regional Outlook on Gender and Agri-food Systems is timely. I congratulate the African Union and FAO on its launch. It will definitely allow us to better track progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment in relation to agriculture and food security.

The UN system is also called to step it up in support to both gender equality and food security.

Ensuring prioritizing greater inter-agency and system-wide coordination to support sustainable agriculture is a most.

  • Example of joint action include our work with the African Development Bank’s Hi-5 initiative, which supports the continent’s transition to inclusive and green growth.
  • While the programme is empowering rural women leaders in enhancing food security and addressing severe nutrition challenges, it also demonstrates how UN collaboration can accelerate progress on achieving zero hunger and nutrition in the context of the SDGs.

Let me finalize my presentation by paying tribute to the African rural women.

We recognize the proven knowledge and skills African rural women have in relation to managing natural resources sustainably and adapting to climate change. Food security depends on this expertise and knowledge. The whole sustainability project is on the hands of rural women. The peaceful and prosperous future for all of humanity is on their hands. Their contributions and leadership are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda.

A society of gender equality and zero hunger in our lifetime is possible. Redoubling of current efforts and a push for political commitment and timely concrete actions is pivotal. Empowering poor African rural women should be granted the highest political will if African hunger is to be eradicated if a shared prosperity is to be achieved.

I thank you.